A rights organisation, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has dragged the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, to a Federal High Court in Abuja, over her refusal to provide information on how the $460 million loan obtained in 2010 from China to fund the failed Abuja Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) project was expended.
In the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1447/2019, SERAP contended that the minister has no legally justifiable reason not to heed its Freedom of Information (FOI) request of October 25, regarding the identities of contractors involved in the failed project as well as the reason behind Federal Government’s continuous repayment of the loan.
It noted that transparency in the spending of Chinese loans is good for everyone, as this would help to increase the effectiveness, legitimacy, and contribution of the loans to the development of public goods and services, and the general public interests.
The organisation further argued that the information being requested for does not come within the purview of the types of information exempted from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
“Democracy cannot flourish if governments operate in secrecy. The citizens are entitled to know how the commonwealth is being utilized, managed and administered in a democratic setting.
“By the combined provisions of Sections 1; 2; 3(4); 4; 7(1)&(5); 9; 14(2)(b); 19(2); 20 of the FoI Act, 2011, among other provisions; SERAP’s right of access to information is guaranteed and there is a statutory obligation on the minister, being public officer, to proactively keep, organize and maintain all information or records about her ministry’s operations, personnel, activities and other relevant or related information or records in a manner that facilitates public access to such information or recor
“By virtue of Section 4 (a) of the FOI Act, when a person makes a request for information from a public official, institution or agency, the public official, institution or agency to whom the application is directed is under a binding legal obligation to provide the applicant with the information requested for, except as otherwise provided by the Act, within seven days after the application is received.
“The minister is an appointee of the President of Nigeria and Head of the Ministry of Finance. Her official duties include; collecting and disbursing government revenue, formulating policies on management of the Federal Government’s finance, preparing annual budget and accounts for ministries, departments and agencies and managing federal debt.
“Obedience to the rule of law by all citizens but more particularly those who publicly took oath of office to protect and preserve the constitution is a desideratum to good governance and respect for the rule of law. In a democratic society, this is meant to be a norm; it is an apostasy for government to ignore the provisions of the law and the necessary rules to regulate matters,” SERAP argued further.